By Callum Webb
keshi’s first visit to Manchester on his HELL & BACK tour featured top-quality revivals of his lo-fi classics, and an insightful showcase into the new direction of his debut album GABRIEL.
In his first ever Manchester show, the Vietnamese-American singer, songwriter, and producer impressed at a near-full O2 Victoria Warehouse. To almost 3,500 fans and gig-goers, the 28-year-old demonstrated his innate ability to transfer the charm and productive flair. His live adaptations are unique in their own right.
Also impressing on the night was the opening act Rei Brown, a New York-based alternative/R&B act, proudly recounting to the crowd his long-lasting tour experience supporting keshi during his HELL/HEAVEN tour in the US last summer. With an upbeat lo-fi pop sound, an electronic production style, and incredible vocal range on display right from his first track ‘White Honda’, it is no wonder he received wide-scale applause from fans throughout his 11-song set. Teaching the chorus to his song ‘EZ’ from his 2022 Album Xeno, the Japanese-born artist left the crowd highly energised and eagerly awaiting the main act’s appearance.
Rei Brown performing at O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester – Photo: Callum Webb @ The Mancunion
Opening the scene with dimmed lights and the faded, slowed echo of his hit 2020 track “blue”, keshi surprised fans with a frictionless transition into his new song ‘GET IT’. The song, on GABRIEL, is arguably the track least akin to his previous EPs which were based on distant falsetto vocals and soft synthetic touches.
Running across stage and erratically taking the microphone from the stand, his charismatic stage presence was on show from the get-go, with a buoyant crowd singing to every word in unison. This was characteristic of the generous 22-song set, as was the outstanding performance from Vin Landolfi (guitarist), Marlon Lewis (drummer), and Nate Villages (keys) who provided hard-hitting bass-drops and drum solos in songs such as ‘less of you’, ‘beside you’ and ‘like i need u’, giving long-time fans a new take on some older favourites.
Keeping up the theme of contrasting styles old and new, songs from his debut album were played interspersed between older classics, such as ‘i swear i’ll never leave again’, ‘atlas’, and ‘right here’, rounding off these songs with impressive additional guitar and drum instrumental sections. The former was reimagined completely, so much so that it was introduced as a song for long-time fans remade for the tour.
Other older tracks ‘drunk’ and ‘skeletons’ were played completely acoustically, with the band taking a well-earned breather whilst the singer stood out front, guitar in hand, and with a passionate Manchester crowd providing vocal support and the waving lights of their phone torches.
As for newer material, every song from GABRIEL bar ‘UNDERSTAND’ made the setlist. On these songs, fans were given an introspective look into Houston-born artist’s creative process. He confessed how ‘TOUCH’, a song he described as being incredibly special to him, was captured as a raw piano recording on his phone.
He also detailed his uncertainty on whether ‘ANGOSTURA’, a track he claimed to have written drunk and almost scrapped, would have done well prior to release. He thanked fans for their open-mindedness and support towards the latter, given the experimental nature of some tracks on the new album that feature a move away from the lo-fi guitar sounds and dreamy vocals with which he made his name.
With the confidence to share more recent projects, he performed ‘Kiss Me Right’, an unreleased song featuring production from the French DJ and music producer Madeon, with whom he collaborated previously on his track ‘beside you’. An upbeat, dance track-style song followed, with fast-paced drums and distorted electric guitar. Whether this will be released as a single as his last collaboration was remains to be seen, but it is nonetheless an exciting direction for his music to take following an extremely positive reception on GABRIEL.
A highlight of the show was the live rendition of ‘ANGEL’, with keshi out front playing the acoustic piano melody central to the song on an electric keyboard. The bass drop leading into the chorus was amplified by the terrific work yet again from the band, and ended with the multi-instrumentalist moving from the keys to the electric guitar for a solo.
Following this, the show ended on an encore, with the fingerpicked intro to the 2018 single ‘2 soon’ reinvigorating the crowd. A segment featuring the incredible range of his falsetto vocals was an apt and nostalgic end to the song and indeed the show, and left fans in high spirits as they made their way to the doors.
Overall, Manchester has been subject to an incredible masterclass in catering for fans old and new, and has been introduced to yet another rising US talent who can’t be back soon enough.
Look out for new tour dates for Keshi.
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